To test the hypothesis that variation in soil respiration is related to plant production across a diverse forested landscape, we compared annual soil respiration rates with net primary production and the subsequent allocation of carbon to various ecosystem pools, including leaves, fine roots, forests floor, and mineral soil for 36 independent plots arranged as three replicates of four age classes in three climatically distinct forest types.
Across all plots, annual soil respiration was not correlated with aboveground net primary production (R2=0.06, P>0.1) but it was moderately correlated with belowground net primary production (R2=0.46, P<0.001). Despite the wide range in temperature and precipitation regimes experienced by these forests, all exhibited similar soil respiration per unit live fine root biomass, with about 5 g of carbon respired each year per 1 g of fine root carbon (R2=0.45, P<0.001). Annual soil respiration was only weakly correlated with dead carbon pools such as forest floor and mineral soil carbon (R2=0.14 and 0.12, respectively). Trends between soil respiration, production, and root mass among age classes within forest type were inconsistent and do not always reflect cross-site trends.
These results are consistent with a growing appreciation that soil respiration is strongly influenced by the supply of carbohydrates to roots and the rhizosphere, and that some regional patterns of soil respiration may depend more on belowground carbon allocation than the abiotic constraints imposed on subsequent metabolism.